This post is about how you can leverage the writing of others through interviews and guest posts to grow your audience - for free!
*This is Part 2 of a multi-part series.
Who am I? My name is Pat Walls and I am the founder of StarterStory.com and I have built a successful business interviewing others. This blog attracts 70k monthly visitors and generates $4K/month in revenue.
A lot of people have asked me for advice on this, so I figured I would write a series about how you get started and use these tactics to grow your blog, business or side project.
This is in conjunction with my new product, Pigeon, which is the tool I’ve built that has helped me scale and automate these interviews. If you’re serious about doing interviews to grow your business and want to try out Pigeon, please reach out.
If you read Part 1, you now have some people, let’s call them “leads” that are interested in doing an interview.
This can also work for guest posts, paid writers, or cross posts as well. The same processes apply!
Here’s what we’ll cover in this part:
- Creating a great template
- Setting deadlines
- Being proactive / email follow-ups
- Your funnel
Creating a great template
The most important first step is to create an excellent questions template.
If you do this right, it will make everything easier for everyone for the rest of the process.
- It sets the right expectations.
- It will save you a lot of time through the edits and revisions process.
- It will result in better content.
Use Google Docs
Some people like to use pure email or forms, but I’m a huge fan of Google Docs. For me, the collaboration features are essential in the revisions process (which I will touch on in the next part of this guide).
What’s also great about Google Docs is you can have a “main template” and create copies of the template to send to your interviewees.
So, you create one template and you are done.
A shameless plug
Although the Google Docs Make A Copy feature is great, it’s a bit time consuming to use if you’re doing a lot of interviews! Esp because you need to edit the permissions of the document every time.
Pigeon uses the Google Docs API to give you one-click Google doc copying - so you paste in your template once and you’re always making copies of that. It also updates the permissions of the copied document automatically.
Check out this GIF to see how easy it is to generate google docs with one click:
Set the right expectations
In my google doc templates, I have a blurb at the top that attempts to set expectations with the writer.
I’ve developed this over time, and you should too. I’ve added things to this that I really want to harp on - for example - being honest and transparent. It’s one of the cornerstones of the type of content that I do.
This helps set that precedent before they start writing.
I also show some examples of some of our best interviews, including how many times they have been read. This helps show the writer what works well - as they may have not totally checked out your site.
Here’s what it looks like:
Use “helper questions”
The people that you interview are likely not skilled freelance writers - so it’s best to give your writers some guidance on the writing process.
It’s imperative that you do everything you can to help people write better - and one of the best ways to do that is with the use of sub-questions and hints inside the template. See the image below for how that could look.
Since sitting in front of a blank page is really daunting - this kind of thing helps prevent writer’s block.
It also helps you guide the writer to talking about the things that you want them to talk about. For example, in my content I always want the writer to be specific, so I really harp on that in the subquestions - see image below again.
Keep improving your document
This thing should be a living, breathing document. I’m always adding and removing things to this document.
If I keep having to ask writers to include something in the revisions process, I add that to the template or try to highlight it more.
I will often analyze reader feedback and take that feedback to the template. I’m often thinking, “what do readers have questions or want to hear more about?”.
If there are trends or common themes, I will make sure that is reflected in the document.
For example, I had a lot of comments on interviews from people asking about manufacturing - so I added a whole section on that.
Set deadlines with interviewees
Now that you have a great template and your interviewee is ready to write, you must set a deadline.
I understand that it might feel weird/rude to set deadlines (I used to feel that way) for someone who is essentially doing you a favor, but it’s extremely important to the process.
Deadlines are also very normal in the content and publishing world.
Remember, writing your interview is not a top priority for anyone, so without a deadline, it will rarely get done on time.
I usually set a deadline for about two weeks out, and I try to be a bit ‘stern’ about the deadline being important.
Here’s what my email looks like:
Deadlines are not for you, they are for them
Although my email above makes it seem like deadlines are important to me, they don’t really have much to do with my own publishing process.
Deadlines are a great human psychology technique, so take advantage of them.
Setting a reasonable deadline will allow the other party to prioritize and constrain their own time. I personally like having a deadline for my own projects (if I was getting interviewed).
I actually used to not do deadlines, but when I started setting them everything became so much easier. I even had an interviewee force me to give him one:
Another shameless plug
With Pigeon, I’m able to set the deadline, generate the google doc, and schedule an email with automatic follow-ups after the deadline.
Here’s what that looks like (see the Pigeon Gmail sidebar on the right side below:
Ok, so you set a deadline and now you’re set, right?
Still, most people won’t get it done on time or meet your deadline. This is where it’s important to be proactive and follow up with people.
If you are not proactive, most of your content will fall into what I call the “black hole”. I still have hundreds of “lost” interviews in that black hole, but I’ve been able to save countless interviews that would have gone there with just a couple of emails.
Follow up consistently until you get a no
I make it a point to follow up with interviewees right after the deadline to see where the first draft is.
Then after that, I follow up mercilessly until they get it done, or they tell me they don’t want to do the interview anymore.
Here’s what one of my email chains might look like:
Use email tools to remind you
Once you have more than a few interviews, you won’t have the mental capacity to keep all of them in mind. So you must use a system.
Use inbox tools to remind you, such as the Gmail snooze feature, hire a VA/outsource this work, or use Pigeon :)
Since most of this is done over email, using email tools will keep your inbox sane and actionable.
If you really want to save time, you can use Pigeon to schedule automatic replies. I do the following:
- Follow up right after the deadline
- Follow up a week after that
- Follow up a week after that
If I don’t get any responses, Pigeon keeps following up for you, all with just one click.
Here’s a look at how that works with Pigeon:
This saves me many, many hours. Now I don’t have to chase people down as much.
Just set the reminders and forget it.
Treat it like a sales funnel
If the content is your business, you should treat it like one. If this is just a hobby, that’s a different story.
I will touch on this in later posts, but if you’re serious about doing interviews consistently, you should always be tweaking your process to be more efficient and automate everything you can. It’s the only way to stay sane.
Think of publications like Forbes or Huffington Post. Do you think they just post new content willy nilly? No, they probably have extremely robust processes, deadlines, and even content quotas.
My goal is always to spend less time and produce more content. I’m currently publishing ~50 interviews per month and only spend a few hours per week on this.
The stages of the funnel
Everyone’s process is a bit different, but I will give you a high level of what the stages look like for me:
- COLD Cold email
- INTERESTED They respond, I explain how the interview process works
- IN PROGRESS They agree, I set deadline, send survey & google doc
- IN PROGRESS Follow up a few times
- REVIEW Review first draft, markup, and send it back to them for more edits
- WAITING_FOR_REVISIONS They make the edits and send back
- PUBLISHED I publish the interview
I “lose” most of my leads at Stage 1, then through Stage 2 through 7 I’m trying to do everything in my ability to keep them on board and get it across the finish line.
Coming up next
In the next chapter/piece, I will talk about how to create excellent content and how to turn OK content into great content.
That is included but not limited to:
- How to have a great revisions process.
- How to get more out of your writers.
- How to make your blog posts look and feel beautiful.
See you next week!
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